Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard by 17th-century Dutch painter Jacob Willemszoon de Wet. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: God must be sought in mind and heart

  • September 13, 2020

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 20 (Year A) Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16

Understanding the ways of God is not a project for human reasoning or intellect. God can only be understood on God’s own terms.

Humans have set opinions as to how God thinks and acts. This leads many to try to manipulate, please, impress or bribe God for their own ends. When that does not work, disillusionment sets in.

God’s voice in Isaiah sets us straight. God’s thoughts and ways are not only far above ours — they are as far as the heavens are above the Earth. Time and time again in the Old Testament God said and did things that shock human sensibilities or seem unfair to us. And in some instances, they are indeed cases of human projection and fear and should be recognized as such. But we should be wary of taking mental scissors or white-out to any part of Scripture.

God warns us through Isaiah to stop trying to figure God out. God will not be put in neat packages or boxes and will shake loose from any label we might attach to the divine name. At the same time, God urges people to seek God while it is still possible.

We might ask if God is going somewhere — what does Isaiah mean by “while He can still be found?” God does not go anywhere, but we do in our hearts and minds. It is possible to wander so far from God that we forget the way back.

As God fades from our consciousness, our minds and hearts become duller and less aware. Our lives may seem “normal,” but there is something vital missing. Often it is the difficulties or sorrows of life that wake us from our slumber and encourage us to find and follow the path again.

Isaiah urges us to turn to God now — today — and seek God’s presence before we drift any farther. God is near, but must be called upon and invited into our hearts. Let go of thoughts, deeds and attitudes that hinder our spiritual journey. As further proof of how different God is from humans, God promises abundant mercy and forgiveness.

People speak of the hereafter as “a better place” — and indeed it is, but that does not mean that we should necessarily be there now. Paul recognized that he longed to leave the body and be with Christ, but that he still had work to do. It is not all about us, but the good of all and the will of God.

The most important thing for Paul was to be with Christ and that could be experienced either here on Earth or in Heaven. Life is a gift, but it comes with responsibilities. We all have much to give and teach, but also much to learn and experience.

Parables are tricky things. They lead us on and set us up for an expected ending. But when the ending comes, it is not what we imagined. It can be puzzling and even disturbing and is an invitation to see the world in a new way.

In the story of the labourers in the vineyard, we would expect that those who laboured in the heat of the day, from morning until evening, would be paid more than those who were hired at the last hour. Those who worked all day long were outraged and complained to the landowner. We would probably side with them, for by human standards, their treatment seems unfair and we should not attempt to run a business in this way.

We have a finely calibrated scale of what we feel we are owed and what we are worth. The landowner was unmoved — it was his land and his money, and he had agreed on the same wage with all of them. He asked if they were envious because he was generous. The parable ends with the pronouncement that the last will be first, and the first will be last.

The parable demonstrates the absolute impartiality of God, who treats all people in the same manner. Our own spiritual progress or status does not entitle us to anything, except maybe greater responsibilities and testing.

Continually comparing ourselves to others or feeling that we have been shortchanged by God breeds resentment, anger and fear. We should rejoice that God is generous and treats all of us with mercy, generosity and compassion.